Denied entry: Canadian citizen from LaSalle told she needed visa at U.S. border
A LaSalle woman who is a Canadian citizen has been denied entry to the U.S., sparking more criticism of U.S. border officials and raising questions about racial discrimination.
Manpreet Kooner attempted to visit Vermont Sunday, only to be told at the Highgate Springs border that she needs a visa to enter the country.
“We gave in our passports and that’s when we were asked to come inside to be questioned,” Kooner said.
She and her friends were supposed to spend the day at a spa, but instead, she had to head to the U.S. embassy in Ottawa trying to determine what to do.
“My goal here to try to fix it,” said Kooner, 30, who is of Indian descent and was born in Montreal to parents who came to Canada in the 1960s.
Kooner believes she was flagged because she'd been refused entry to the U.S. in December due to what was then described by border guards as a ‘computer glitch’ that was sorted out.
“(That time) we all got a hotel near the border, came back the next morning and they let us through, so we had no issues. So I didn't think anything of it,” she said. “I thought, you know… random search, computer glitch, he wrote up something to justify it and we were able to get in.”
This time, that glitch may have been what triggered over five hours of questions and waiting while guards took Kooner's fingerprint and photo, only to be told that despite being born in Canada, she needs a visa to enter the U.S.
“They made me sign a paper saying I'm an immigrant but not allowed to travel to the U.S. without an immigrant visa,” she said.
Canadian immigration lawyer Neil Drabkin said this could be an example of extreme vetting.
“We've seen a number of cases of late,” he said. “This is a troubling story because Canadian citizens travelling on Canadian passports do not require a visa to visit the United States. This is a very, very unusual situation.”
Kooner has no criminal record and said her friends, both white, were not questioned.
“They weren't asked any questions. Even at the end when they asked me to approach the counter because they got a response. I asked if they wanted all of us, they said, ‘No this just concerns you, not them,’” she said.
Kooner added that the border guard said something to her that may have been revealing.
“(He said) ‘I know you may feel like you've been trumped,’” she recalled.
“This may well be an instance where just because perhaps the colour of her skin that she may had been singled out and been subject to further questioning,” said Drabkin.
Kooner wants clarity. She bought tickets to a music festival in Miami and was planning a bachelorette party in the U.S. in May and now worries her plans and money are about to be lost.
“It's making no sense. It’s really frustrating. I’m upset. I'm being treated like a criminal when I go to the border but I haven't done anything wrong,” she said.
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman told The Canadian Press the department can't comment on individual admissibility inspections, but noted that possession of a valid travel document does not guarantee entry to the United States.
Kooner's story was brought up in the House of Commons on Monday as the NDP peppered the Liberals with questions about her case and about allegations of racial profiling at the border.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told reporters that each country has the sovereign right to control its borders.
"We also have the high expectation that all of our citizens will be treated respectfully and in a fair manner," Goodale added.
He said MP Anju Dhillon of the Dorval—Lachine—LaSalle riding is looking into the Kooner case and will seek a remedy to the situation.
With files from The Canadian Press